BSC Annual Conference 2021 (online) at The Open University: some reflections

The event helped to foster a stronger sense of identity and community within our team at a time when home-working has left many of us feeling detached and isolated.

Between July 7th and July 9th, the Open University’s Department of Social Policy and Criminology (SPC) hosted the BSC’s annual conference online. The event went better than any of us could have imagined, and the feedback we received during and afterwards has been positive, and generous. It goes without saying that there were one or two tech glitches, but overall, we ‘got off’ lightly.  Expectations were modest in the sense that we would not / could not replicate the usual BSC conference process and experience. The initial thinking around this was that it would operate as a ‘place-holder’ type event. To that end we believe the conference over-delivered in some ways. There are too many people to mention for their help by name, but Louise Westmarland must be singled out for instigating the whole thing and making it happen, alongside the BSC team who offered close support and guidance along the way.

Using MS Teams for such a complicated event gave us some concern. We toyed with the idea of using other platforms, but we figured that simplicity would be best. We had the main conference room, which hosted 5 plenary sessions focused on important and pressing criminological themes and issues – broadly reflecting the interests within SPC. We had 14 presentation rooms running in parallel for the 3 days (for the delivery of several hundred papers). There were separate rooms for publishers with their own presentations and consultations, activities run by the various BSC networks, and fantastic evening entertainment orchestrated by Dave Turner – live jazz, live rock, a magician, a quiz, ‘crim dine with me’, and a virtual bar. In all, we had approximately 450 registrants, logging-in from as far away as Australia, Hong Kong, and the USA. Despite only starting to plan the conference in the early Spring, it all seemed to come together well.

Having a team dedicated to managing the various meeting rooms proved invaluable. We sought the help of various colleagues (too many to mention) from the support arms of the faculty, and our associate lecturer colleagues. It’s not something we initially envisaged, but rather, it was a last-minute scramble to resolve a problem we identified with the tech, following a sobering test run. We are very grateful to those colleagues who gave up their time to support the event. The involvement of so many people in making this event happen has helped to foster a stronger sense of identity and community within SPC at a time when home-working has left many of us feeling detached and isolated from one another.

The plenaries got off to a great start, with the Wednesday morning session delivered by Jonny Ilan, exploring the criminalisation of drill music. This was followed on Wednesday afternoon by a ‘harm and crime interface’ session, with papers from Tanya Wyatt and Lois Presser, with Nigel South as discussant. Thursday morning saw Molly Dragiewicz, Kate Fitz-Gibbon, and James Messerschmidt exploring gendered harms. Later in that day there was a plenary to reflect on criminal justice considering Black Lives Matter, with Prabha Unnithan, and Katheryn Russell Brown, with Azrini Wahidin as discussant. Finally, Friday morning offered a focus on decolonisation, with Leon Moosavi, and Kerry Carrington. The parallel sessions provided an impressive breadth of topics and coverage of criminological enquiry, with many closely tracking the focus of the plenary sessions.

Mike Hough was a well-deserved winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award; David Maguire won the criminology book prize (sponsored by Routledge) for his fantastic book Male, Failed, Jailed: Masculinities and ‘Revolving-Door’ Imprisonment in the UK; Alison Hutchinson won the research poster prize (Sponsored by Sage) with an excellent poster on the harms of the fishing industry; and Swansea University won the National Award for Excellence in Teaching Criminology and Criminal Justice 2021.

Being online proved to be advantageous on several levels. It enabled the use of chat boxes for comments and questions throughout, which meant otherwise reticent attendees (within a face-to-face meeting) could take advantage of an arguably less daunting option. People could easily hop in and out of sessions, or to sit in a meeting whilst looking after children, and still ‘be there’ in some sense, rather than being excluded had they physically needed to attend. Our plenary sessions included global experts, pioneering in their focus, who otherwise might not have been able to participate face-to-face. Also, there were the financial savings for institutions and individual attendees, and indeed, the environmental benefit of hundreds of attendees not having to travel. The BSC have indicated that future conferences will entail some online element. Surrey 2022, for example, is set to be a hybrid delivery model, and we wish them every success with this.

There was a wider sense of inclusion both in terms of the aspiration and delivery of the conference. Although we held the usual postgraduate morning on day one, we were also careful to integrate postgraduate papers throughout all the parallel sessions. The online nature of the conference in some ways acted as a ‘leveller’, whereby usual power dynamics between some of the more-established names in criminology and relatively inexperienced presenters were less pronounced than usual (in part because of digital competency!).

Overall, we are delighted to have been able to host such a prestigious event, to showcase The OU and SPC, and to positively engage with some of the most pressing issues and debates in criminology (and beyond). It was a step into the unknown for us, but a thoroughly enjoyable and welcome one! We couldn’t have pulled it off without the help of colleagues across the University and the BSC — a huge ‘thank you’ once again to everyone who supported the event, and thank you to all those presented and attended. We look forward to Surrey 2022!

Tony Murphy and Keir Irwin-Rogers

(on behalf of the conference organising team)

Contact

Tony Murphy, The Open University

Email: Tony.murphy@open.ac.uk

Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, The Open University

Email: Keir.irwin-rogers@open.ac.uk

Twitter: @KeirIrwinRogers

Images: courtesy of the authors

Decolonizing Criminology through the inclusion of epistemologies of the south

Kerry Carrington is a Research Professor at the Centre for Justice Queensland University of Technology, and Fellow of the Academy of SocialSciences. Kerry leads multi-lingual research teams across the globe on southernizing criminology projects. She’s the Founding Editor of the Open Access International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy.

What needs de-colonising?  Metropolitan thinking in criminology

Metropolitan thinking rests on a linear, panoramic and unifying standpoint in which space, and geo-political and social difference, are erased in the imperial narrative of time. This temporal logic constructs societies peripheral to the epicentres of colonial power as backward. Hence the division of the world into ‘developing’ and ‘developed’, ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds, in which the global north is depicted as leading the way to an advanced stage of civilisation (Carrington and Hogg et al, 2018: 6). A multitude of perspectives, de-colonial, post-colonial, Indigenous, southern, southern feminist, and subaltern theories have criticised this way of dividing the world and measuring human progress (Aas, 2012; Agozino, 2010; Brown, 2018; Campos, 2018; Carrington et al., 2016; Connell, 2007; Cunneen, 2018; de Magalhães Gomes, 2018;  de Sousa Santos, 2014; Leon, 2021;  Lui, 2009; 2017; Mignolo, 2011; Travers, 2019).

According to this logic, social phenomena in the ‘periphery’ would be investigated from the standpoint of universal theories and laws of development generated in ‘modern’ or ‘Western’ societies of the Global North (Connell, 2007). The South could be mined for data, as for other raw materials, but little in the way of novel ideas or theoretical insights of anything more than local interest could be yielded by the social scientific enterprise in the South. Connell calls this ‘metropolitan’ thinking (Connell 2007: 215).  We argue this has also been true for criminology (Carrington, Hogg and Sozzo, 2016).

Why southern? A metaphor for centre/periphery relations of power

Raewyn Connell deliberately chose the label southern for three reasons. First, to direct attention to periphery-centre relations of power and the epistemic privilege of the universities of the global north, where around 90% of the world’s journals, universities, resources for doing research reside. The south is conceptualised as a metaphor for the unequal economic, political and intellectual power relations embedded in metropolitan thinking. Second, to highlight the fact that social theory can be developed from the periphery – not just the centres of power and epistemic privilege. And third, that social thought is positioned – specific to place and the land, not universal or timeless (Connell, 2007: viii-ix). This means there are multiple – not dichotomous- epistemologies of south and north, east and west, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.  When taken in its metaphorical sense, the ‘south’ refers to the peripheral voices located anywhere in the world. The South and North are not homogeneous or mutually exclusive spaces or categories. This is a prominent theme in the work of critical criminologists like Elliot Currie, who argues that ‘we cannot begin to grasp either the nature or origins of America’s outsized problem of violent crime (or of punishment) without placing the ‘Southern’ legacy in the foreground’ (Currie, 2018: 44).  He is referring to the history of slavery and transportation of 10-15 million Africans to the Americas (north and south) from the 16th century.

Border thinking and de-colonising knowledge

Boaventura de Sousa Santos stresses that the task of de-colonising knowledge is complex, gigantic, and in some contexts, born of struggle against capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism (2020: 220-27).  He argues there are two main projects of de-colonising knowledge – one negative and the other positive. The negative championed by decolonial theory is to critique and root out ethnocentric, racist and anglocentric biases of knowledge systems. This journey has many champions. The positive and more challenging project is the constructive work of building the epistemologies of the south (de Santos Sousa, 2020: 226). The plural is deliberate as the key to disrupting the hegemony of northern epistemologies is to build diverse epistemologies, through what he calls border thinking. This journey has fewer champions, of which I am one.

de Sousa Santos argues there can be no global justice without cognitive justice (de Sousa Santos 2014: viii). Like Connell, he is critical of the way the history of the social sciences has projected itself as an emancipatory project while its modernist ideals remained based on the experience of metropolitan societies (de Sousa Santos 2014: 71). However, unlike many post-or de-colonial theorists who see little worth recovering from Northern theories, de Sousa Santos does imagine that a non-Occidentalist West is a possibility (de Sousa Santos 2014: 114). Consequently, he rejects the reductionism of post-colonial/decolonial theories that reify and essentialise concepts, such as Eastern or Indigenous knowledge and stand them in outright opposition to Western scientific knowledge (de Sousa Santos 2014: 212). Rather, he opts for border thinking, inter-cultural thinking and ways of knowing which offer an escape from the colonising effects of the global episteme. He defines these alternative knowledges as necessarily limited as opposed to the universalising claims of metropolitan thought (de Sousa Santos 2014: 212). Border thinking occurs in the spaces in between, with the view that ‘knowledges that may be refounded, reconfigured, and reconstructed in such a way that they may be put at the service of anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-patriarchal struggles’ (de Sousa Santos, 2020: 225).  It is futile to challenge the global hierarchy of knowledge by resurrecting alternative origin stories or ‘founding fathers’, as some de-colonial theorists have done. This engages in the same rhetorical strategy of producing false binaries as does metropolitan thought (Connell, 2007: xi).

Southernizing criminology as a salve for its metropolitan thinking

The southernizing of criminology acts as a salve for the biases of metropolitan thinking (Hughes, 2020: 194). Southern criminologies (and the plural is deliberate as there is no single unifying voice from the global south), contest the universalism of theories based on knowledge specific to English speaking countries of the north Atlantic world. They question linear models of progress and colonialist constructions of justice used in criminology to measure other justice systems as backward, exotic or primitive and challenge criminological theories that erase the historical legacies of colonialism, slavery and structured global inequality.

As a theoretical project the southernizing of criminology seeks to reorient and correct hegemonic biases, to expand the repertoire of criminological knowledges beyond their heavily laden northern gaze. It is premised on the recognition that North and South are globally interconnected in ways and with effects, both historical and contemporary, which warrant careful inquiry and analysis in criminological research, theoretical, and policy agendas (Carrington et al 2016; 2019). De-colonising criminology steers a tricky pathway along what the Bengali social scientist Chakrabarty (2007) calls conceptual pragmatism that accepts knowledge is so embedded with metropolitan thought it is not possible to completely disentangle it from its hegemony (Chakrabarty, 2007) (see Brown 2018). But a criminology that aims to decenter, democratize and pluralize knowledge by injecting it with knowledge from the south and the periphery is possible.  Indeed, rather than creating divisions, southern criminologies seek to build epistemological bridges, based on the premise that an important form of decolonial action is achieved by ‘affecting and transforming the contents of Western science, through the use of knowledge, realities and cosmologies’ of the south (Goyes, 2018: 337).

As an empirical project, epistemologies of the south seek to cultivate knowledges of and from the periphery that have been relatively invisible or marginalized (Alvirti et al., 2021; Carrington, Hogg and Sozzo, 2016; Carrington et al., 2018; Carrington, Goyes, et al., 2019; Goyes, 2019; Fonseca, 2018; Valdés-Riesco, 2020). One of the emphases is to reinsert the historical legacies of colonialism back into analysis of contemporary crime and justice. Not in the same way as comparative criminology has done it, by drawing comparisons framed by an orientalism or elitism that constructs non-western societies as ‘exotic,’ ‘primitive’ or the ‘other’ (Liu, 2011; 2017). Southern epistemologies seek ‘to contemplate life, crime and social order outside the metropolitan North, … (and) to find new ways of thinking about phenomena so that the South is understood on its own terms’ (Brown, 2018: 83).

One of the problems with theories of decolonisation, has been the tendency to essentialise race and romanticise ethnicity. This argues Camilla de Magalhães Gomes (2018; 2021), makes invisible the gender of colonality. She is critical of the lack of gender perspectives in the work of de-colonial theorists insisting that ‘gender is a category of decolonial analysis’ (de Magalhães Gomes, 2021: 1). Attempts at de-colonizing feminist theory and social science are not new (eg. Mohanty, 1991; Lugones, 2010). What is relatively new is the emergence of southern feminisms (Campos, 2020; Giraldo, 2016; Lima Costa, 2014; Tlostanova, et al., 2016; Rodriguez Castro, 2020), that aim to docolonise and democratise feminist theory (Connell, 2015: 59), by embracing a mosaic of epistemologies (Connell, 2015: 59) using border thinking (Tlostanova, et al., 2016). ‘Feminist border thinking is a horizontal transversal networking of different local histories and sensibilities mobilised through a number of common, yet pluriversal and open categories’ (Tlostanov, et al., 2016: 217).

As Leon Mossavi (2018) rightly points out, there have been previous attempts to unpack and jettison what he calls ‘westernised criminology’—to trans-nationalize it (Aas, 2012; Bowling, 2011) and to decolonize it (Agozino, 2010; Cunneen, 2011; 2018). What differentiates southern criminologies from these critiques, however, is that it eschews the romanticization of ‘the other’; based on identity, class, race, Indigeneity or ethnicity (Cain, 2000).  That southern criminologies are not in principle oppositional projects which rest on identity politics, does not make them, as some armchair critics suggest, a form of incorporation or a bandwagon (Moosavi, 2020). Nor is it ‘a defensive reflex, designed to exonerate Anglo-spheric theory from complicity in epistemic violence’ (Blagg and Anthony, 2019: 6). Their book titled, Decolonising Criminology critiques criminologies of the south without even referencing a single example. It was reviewed by Tharawal woman, Robyn Oxley an early career Indigenous scholar, who pointed out that Blagg and Anthony quote very few Indigenous scholars, concluding: ‘For non-Aboriginal scholars who have built their careers on the backs of Aboriginal people, the time has come to make space for Indigenous scholars’ (Oxley, 2020: 180-181).

The crude simplistic critiques of southern criminologies published in privileged journals in United States and England overlook the many shared similarities between those who aim to decolonize knowledge through decolonial critique, what Dimou refers to as ‘the decolonial option’ (2021:1), and those who seek to decolonize knowledge through constructing southern epistemologies through border thinking and intercultural collaboration (i.e. Aliverti  et al., 2019; Carrington, et al., 2016; Carrington, Goyes et al., 2019; Fonseca, 2018; Goyes, 2018;  Goyes and South, forthcoming; Lui, 2017; Travers, 2019; Walklate, 2016; Zaffaroni, 2015). Those who critique it as a project led by a bunch of Australians completely misunderstand how the southernizing of criminology pursues a series of practical decolonizing projects all over the world, involving hundreds if not thousands of scholars from a great many cultures, continents and languages. Many initiated by scholars in other languages, whose activities are rendered entirely invisible by these crude critiques. These projects create opportunities for border thinking and intercultural communication through real world conferences, discussion groups, open access journal publication, supporting scholars with southern criminology scholarships, mentoring, bi-lingual events and other collaborations. International conferences seeking to southernize criminology have been convened five times in Australia and twice in Latin America, both times with simultaneous translation, funded by QUT Centre for Justice. Recently the Centre of Criminology, University of Oxford co-hosted a multi-lingual conference with Universidad Nacional del Litoral, Argentina on Punishment in the Global Peripheries  and formed a discussion group on southernizing criminology. The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research has established formal links with universities in the global south as a practical commitment to bridging global divides and decolonizing criminology. Universities in Latin America have been at the forefront of developing southern epistemologies, criminologies and southern feminisms for decades (eg Lugones, Mignolo, Sozzo and Zafaroni, leading figures in these debates are all from Argentina). The Asian Criminological Society, has also been pioneering alternative knowledges to anglo-centric northern criminology since 2006 (Carrington, Goyes, et al., 2019).

Another practical form of decolonisation is citing and publishing in Open Access journals which disseminate knowledge outside the capitalist model that makes knowledge a commodity behind paywalls. Criminology Open  championed by Scott Jacques from Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University, Atlanta, is a practical illustration of how all of us can contribute to the democratisation of criminology, regardless of positionality or identity. This website provides open sources for students, academics and the public, and urges  ‘we must make our works freely available to everyone’.

The open access journal published by QUT Centre for Justice, International Journal for Crime Justice and Social Democracy, of which I am the founding editor, is dedicated to de-colonising and democratising knowledge through open access publishing, creative commons copyright ensuring authors retain their own intellectual property rights. It has:

  • 112 Editorial Board members from 22 countries, 2 Indigenous to Australia, one Pacific Islander and many multi-lingual members from Latin America, Asia and other parts of the global south and north.
  • 1230 authors from 60 countries have cited the Journal’s articles affiliated with 441 institutions around the world
  • contributing authors have come from 38 countries and 157 institutions
  • 10% of the published articles are about Indigenous/Aboriginal or First Nations Issues – one of the highest proportion in the world (Goyes and South, forthcoming)
  • publishes and funds early career researchers to do translations
  • publishes some articles in multiple languages

The democratisation of knowledge through open access publishing that is free to download and publish disrupts the profiteering of corporate publishing giants like Elsevier. Anyone in criminology can participate in the project of decolonising knowledge by supporting, citing, founding, and publishing in open access journals and modes of publication.

Unlike the negative decolonial projects (which have their place), the project of southernizing criminology does not set out to denigrate the contribution of metropolitan criminology– or to damn all criminologists as ‘racist’, ‘westerncentric’ ‘control freaks’ on some sort of ‘bandwagon’. Rather than creating divisions the projects of southern criminologies seek to bridge global divides precisely as form of a decolonial praxis in action.

Contact

Professor Kerry Carrington,

Email: Kerry.carrington@qut.edu.au

Project website: Home – Preventing Gender Violence (qut.edu.au)

Staff page with links to publications: QUT | Staff Profiles | Kerry Carrington

Images courtesy of author

Kerry Carrington took the photograph at the top of the article in Argentina in 2019. “It’s a mural painted by a survivor of domestic violence, it says ‘Break the Silence’. The research was done in Spanish with a team from Argentina. Here’s the link to the project and team”. https://research.qut.edu.au/pgv/

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‘Crime and Harm: Challenges of Social and Global Justice?

The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation.

Looking ahead to the annual BSC conference at the Open University

As we hurtle towards the start of this year’s conference, we thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time introducing it and signalling what is to come.

We are confident that this will be an exciting, innovative, and timely exposition and exploration of many important and pressing issues. Naturally, our planning and thinking around the conference has been heavily influenced by events over the past eighteen months – in terms of its online delivery, and the areas of focus. The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation. These themes are also closely linked to much of the curriculum and research at The Open University, which has always been critical and pioneering, as well as the enduring social justice and equality mission at the heart of the institution.

Our initial expectations for the conference have already been surpassed through the fantastic response we have received from our plenary speakers, our presenters, and those just wanting to attend. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm we have received for the conference. We are delighted to have a diverse set of plenary speakers, all of whom are internationally renowned in their respective fields of teaching and research. These speakers will be presenting from locations across the globe – from the UK, Australia, and the USA, to Hong Kong, Canada, and various countries in Europe.

It goes without saying that hosting the conference this year has come with a number of challenges, and the wider circumstances have required us to adapt in terms of moving to online delivery and dealing with the difficulties this has thrown up. This seems apt given the nature of The Open University and our focus on online delivery of programmes – albeit, within a blended model of teaching. Yet, it has still been a challenge in terms of how best to organise and run such a large and complicated conference online.

We hope the product of our efforts will prove to be a rich and stimulating three days. While much of the conference programme illustrates a tight connection with the conference themes, the diversity of topics and disciplinary backgrounds within these parameters remains remarkable. So too is the mix between some well-established names in the field, up and coming early career researchers, and those just beginning to dip their toes in conference waters.

We have five plenary sessions (one on each conference theme, plus a postgraduate one), seven sessions for papers (encompassing up to fourteen rooms per session), a postgraduate workshop, various publisher stands and activities, and many activities within the dedicated networks session.  There will be a special edited edition of the CCJ in the run up to the conference and a special journal edition from the BSC published from papers presented at the event.

While the fully online nature of this year’s event may preclude the traditional face-to-face opportunities to meet, catch-up and network over food and drinks, we very much hope there will be plenty of spaces to establish new connections and relationships throughout the duration of the conference. Beyond the serious academic stuff, we have a range of fun social activities built into our programme, ranging from ‘Crim Dine With Me’, to live music, and a magic routine! Clearly, we cannot quite hope to match the fun and frolics that have characterised previous BSC conferences, but we have at least invested energy into making the social side of the conference just as memorable as the academic discussions.

We plan to post a more substantial follow-up piece following the event, to reflect upon the key messages and next steps, so please do look out for that.

For now, thank you in advance to everyone for taking part in this year’s conference — we very much look forward to welcoming you!

Tony Murphy and Keir Irwin-Rogers

(on behalf of the OU organising team)

For information about the conference please see the BSC website